The Company You Keep: Three Steps to Finding the Breakthrough Team

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D. and Sarah Cardozo Duncan

Path through trees

Finding that next great team and company could be right around the corner. With a little preparation, this journey will be much easier and much more rewarding.

You can find new articles for entrepreneurs almost every day advising how to best make a success out of their brilliant ideas.  One of the key pieces of advice is to make sure that you hire the very best team you can to make this all work.  In a previous post, The ABC’s of Building a Startup A-Team, we provided guidance for startups to help them identify the new team members that will best help them achieve success.  One of the best indicators that a given candidate will make an ideal team member has to do with how well the culture of both the candidate and the company fit.

Assessing the fit:  A candidate’s perspective
Joining a new team is a big commitment of time and future career progression as success at your next post will influence your path further on.  Make the right decision here and you will have given your own career a boost.  The proper fit of culture and expectations is just as crucial for any individual team member as it is for the company doing the hiring.  The following guidance is intended to help generate the kind of understanding between candidate and company that leads to terrific outcomes for both.

Step 1:  Clarify your own expectations
It is easy to miss opportunities to learn more about the company you are evaluating during the heat of the interviewing process.  Preparation beforehand will help you to maximize your knowledge of what it might be like to work on this new team.  This first step will not only simplify this process during your interview but afterwards as well when you are assessing which company to select.

Create a prioritized list of the top 6 -10 requirements that you have for your next role.    For example:

  1. Opportunity for growth by learning new things?  (What skills or expertise will you gain?)
  2. Is the culture of the company a good fit for me (How are decisions made?  How much autonomy is there? How are conflicts resolved? Etc.)
  3. Compensation package (How does this compare with industry norms?)
  4. Title (Will this help, hurt or be neutral when viewed by your colleagues in the industry)
  5. Distance from home (What about the ability to work from home?)
  6. Travel (How much? International or Domestic only?)
  7. Opportunities to continue to publish (Will you be able to maintain or build your reputation in the academic community?)
  8. Work with cross-functional teams (Will you be a contributor, team leader or both?)
  9. Opportunity to contribute to the company’s growth strategy (Will you have a ‘seat at the table’ to shape how the company grows?)
  10. Opportunity to drive and mentor a team (Will you have direct reports?)
  11. Does the company participate in Social Responsibility initiatives? (How does the company give back to the community?)

Step 2: Assess the fit with your list
You likely will not have the opportunity to formally ask about everything on your list during your interview.  Obviously you can mix and match what questions you ask each of the people that you meet, but be sure that you cover at least the top 4 or 5 items during your interview.

You can get a pretty good idea of what type of culture there is at the company by observing the actions of the people you meet both during and after the interview.  Taking note of your surroundings can tell you a lot about how employees are valued.  (Are there big offices for the senior leadership while everyone else is crammed into a cube farm?  Do they have free coffee or other amenities?)  It is also important to take note of post-interview behavior.  If they said that they would be in touch, did they in fact follow through with that in a reasonable time or with the time that they indicated? How do they respond to further communication with them?

Together with your assessment during your interview, your appraisal of both the environment and behavior of those you met, you should have a pretty good idea of what it will be like to join this team.

Step 3:  Close the deal
Once you receive a formal written offer from the company, you will likely have gotten good answers to the most important items on your list.  If there is 100% agreement here, the next step is easy.  Accept the offer!  However, such clarity and total alignment is rare.  Furthermore, this can be more confusing when you are considering multiple offers.  The way in which you negotiate with them and they with you should provide the final insight you need to make the best decision.  Remember that this is about seeing if you can get your expectations and those of the company closer together.  This is a place for conversation not ultimatums.  How things go at this stage in the relationship can be one of the most influential in your decision.

Finding the right team to join can be one of the best decisions you make for both your own career and your happiness for the upcoming years.  With a little preparation, and persistence, this sometimes daunting task can become quite manageable and ultimately leads to the building of strong companies and careers.

Additional Resources:

Picture Credit:  James Wheeler via photopin cc

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *